When I teach my workshop on Websites and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) with San Luis Obispo’s SCORE Chapter, I find many participants are surprised to learn that a keyword is more than just a word.  Not only is it a string of words, but a lot goes in to selecting your keyword string to get the best performance from it. 

Keep in mind when I talk about keywords, I don’t mean solitary words.  Keywords are now strings of words used together.  For me, “Paso Robles marketing agency” would be ONE keyword.  If I were to try and use those word individually, I’d be competing with El Paso in Texas, Paso Robles in California, the word marketing, and the word agency which could mean an advertising agency or a modeling agency.  When I say “keyword” I mean the whole keyword string as one keyword.

How to Choose a Keyword String


Firstly, a keyword should be consumer-driven, meaning something that a potential client or costumer would search Google for as part of a sales cycle.  Many keywords are part of an information cycle in which someone is looking for information only.  While it is a good SEO strategy to use information cycle keywords to grab people to convert into sales in the future, the best SEO strategy starts with sales cycle keywords to get you sales now, not in a year.  An example I give in my Websites and SEO workshop uses dog food: if someone types in “egg-free dog food” they are likely looking to purchase that product, whereas someone searching for “egg allergies in dogs” is looking for information about that topic and while they may make a purchase is the future, they are too early in a sales funnel to worry about when you’re just getting started.  

Niche Optimized

Secondly, a keyword should be location and/or niche optimized based on your Unique Selling Position (or USP for short).  If you are a local business serving local consumers, that’s pretty easy: start with your location and branch out over time.  I’m located in Paso Robles, but I can serve people in San Luis Obispo, too, so I focus on getting to the first page in Google for Paso Robles first, then I start adding to it with other locations like Atascadero and San Luis Obispo.  Now in a world equipped with Zoom, I can serve someone in Antarctica, too, but the bigger your net, the more competition you’ll have, so it’s best to be strong locally first and branch out over time.  You can refine your net by using niche words, for example I could say I serve a lot of wineries being that I’m in Paso Robles and that I am a “digital marketing agency for wineries” and use this as my keyword.  So, then I could compete for that keyword nationally or internationally and have better targeting to the right consumer while avoiding broader competition from marketing agencies that serve construction contractors and such.  

I know a lot of new businesses have trouble defining their USP and niche.  I’ve worked in the health industry a lot and find that people in that industry have the most trouble identifying their niche because they want to be all things health-related to all people, but everyone has a passion and a unique gift, so put that to use in your marketing.  Sure, you could be a general practitioner, but do you serve more men, women, or families with kids?  Think about ways you can narrow down your scope.  For more information about USP, check out the workshops from the San Luis Obispo SCORE Chapter; I do one with my social media workshop and a SCORE mentor named JOE Whitaker also does one with his marketing course.  You can take both if you feel like you need the help.  In fact, SCORE workshops are free so you can take both as many times as you feel like you need!  


Lastly, a keyword should have good traffic volumes but still be obtainable.  If I said I was a marketing agency for purple squirrels, I wouldn’t have much competition, but I also wouldn’t have a lot of hits from Google.  You can actually get search volume estimates from Google in their AdWords tool for free, which is really helpful.  But you can also simply type a keyword into Google and see what results you get to get a feel for your competition.  If you find a keyword is competing with Walmart, you may want to skip the keyword for now; Walmart likely has a bigger marketing budget than you do.  Find ways to avoid big chains and big box stores by being creative with your unique selling position and also being aware of the consumer.   

Plan Ahead

Another great tool to use for your keyword research is Google Analytics.  Be sure to install it as early as possible to start collecting keyword data from your website.  Even if you have a website but haven’t launched it yet, get it installed.  You’ll thank yourself later.  

I like to make a spreadsheet of my keywords for each of my clients and track how many hits the word gets and what our rank currently is.  This helps me focus on the most profitable words first and know when a word needs more help in my SEO strategy.  Planning makes a difference!

Future Workshops

If you’d like to learn more about keywords, check out the San Luis Obispo SCORE Chapter’s upcoming local workshops and look for me as a teacher.  Currently, I’m teaching over Zoom so even if you’re in Antarctica, you can join in on the learning experience.  I am also available for hire as an SEO expert when you’re ready for that next step.  You can find me at or on social media as @Chicadita. 


About the Author(s)

Lacey Clifton

Lacey Clifton, MSEd, has been giving workshops with the San Luis Obispo SCORE Chapter for 7 years as a guest of SCORE. She is an expert in social media and search engine optimization to grow a business. Her digital marketing agency is called Chicadita and you can find her online at

choose a keyword